Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness (1986)
TRUTH OR DARE?: A CRITICAL MADNESS
WRITER: Based on a story by Tim Ritter
DIRECTOR: Tim Ritter
STARRING: John Brace as Mike Strauber
Mary Fanaro as Sharon Strauber
Raymond Carbone as Detective Rosenberg
Terrence Andreucci as Pournelle
QUICK CUT: After finding his wife having sex with another man, Mike Strauber finds comfort in the games of his youth.
Mike - A good, loyal guy, who has some deep rooted issues, that are brought to the fore after some bad events rock his world.
TRISK ANALYSIS: Welcome back, Triskelions! June is here, and what better time than to play Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness? Actually, there's probably many better times. And even maybe not play it. But since this movie's poster and cover shout June 1st as an important date...well, here I am.
A Critical Madness is a shot on video movie from the 80s, when that wave was sweeping across the video stores, and is one of my favourite sections of the time period to explore. It is very much a look into DIY filmmaking of the era, because video cameras opened it up to a wider group of people, and it is fascinating to see things from people who knew what they were doing, like the Oklahoma made trilogy, Blood Cult, Revenge, and The Ripper, and people who had zero clue and created accidental messterpieces like Sledgehammer. So where does Truth or Dare? fall on the scale? Let's find out together.
The movie opens up very casually on Sharon Strauber having sex with not her husband, who is driving up the road at that very moment. He is so oblivious as he pokes around the house, checking the bills, calling out for his wife, and not hearing their love making. And they are just as oblivious at not hearing him wandering around.
As he looks for them, the music becomes serious, hilariously builds and builds, and the acting when he finally stumbles into the bedroom is priceless.
He storms off in despair, despite his wife trying to console him and explain, before driving off. Mike drives down the long and winding Flashback Road as recent events add up and start to make more sense.
This movie loves long, unbroken shots at times, and lots of Mike driving, thankfully intercut with these flashbacks. On the one hand, this is really slow and languid, but at the same time, it really contextualises things, and you feel what Mike is going through as everything adds up and he feels so dumb for missing the signs as his life implodes.
Mike can't take it anymore, sits in his car with a gun pointed at his head, and flashes even further back to his very first Truth or Dare game, where he sliced his wrist with a razor blade. Mike never met a dare he didn't like.
He frantically drives off, again, and picks up a hitchhiker along the way. They drive off and find a campsite so he can have some revenge sex, or something.
Instead, they sit around the campfire, and start playing Truth or Dare. It all starts out normally enough, but things start to get weird when the hitchhiker reveals she has the same name as his wife.
She dares him to throw his wallet into the fire...and he does. Then he dares her to lift up her blouse...and she does, well off camera. Now that trust has been established, she dares him to pull his eye out...but he turns the tables on her, by daring HER to pull HER eye out...WITH A CORKSCREW. Which she does??
He throws the eye into the fire, and when he turns back, she is completely unharmed. And things continue to escalate with her daring him to cut off his finger, and then slice open his chest. Mike delivers a top notch, intense performance with all this, showing fright, determination, and a crumbling state of mind all at once.
That's when the park ranger comes by to yell about them having a fire going past 11, and finds Mike's mutilated body, after the imaginary Sharon dares him to tear out his own tongue.
He gets rushed off to the hospital, chanting truth or dare, truth or dare!! as best he can with a damaged tongue. And after that, the movie has my rapt attention. That was out there, and all the more impactful for how slow the pace was.
After that time jump, the psychiatric facility is overcrowded, and Mike seems to have recovered enough, so they let him go! I'm sure this will all end well!
Mike hops in his car, flings his release papers in the air, and drives off cackling. Probably not the BEST idea when you want the world to think you sane...
He calls home, to hear his wife's voice, and when he hangs up after saying nothing, Sharon plays it off like an illicit lover has called her, as a joke on her new boyfriend. Lady. If you have a history of cheating on a guy, WITH THE GUY YOU ARE CURRENTLY WITH, do not joke about cheating on him, because hey!
Mike sneaks into his old house, and is literally standing right behind his wife, with a knife, ready to stab her, and she is just...oblivious. Let me be real here, these two were made for each other. They are literally the people for whom, "they wouldn't realise it even if it bit them in their own ass" was created for.
He starts to feel antsy though, and sneaks off to the garage to take care of his real problem, the guy who stole his wife from him, and stabs him dead.
Sharon continues to not notice that, I'm sure there was screaming, and he returns to the kitchen to finish the job. But Mike is given away, despite being this big guy standing behind Sharon for a good long while...WHEN HIS WATCH ALARM BEEPS. I am dead. That is priceless. And is also probably how I would be discovered.
Mike stumbles out into the road, where he is hilariously discovered by two random passerby who call the ambulance on him again, while his wife calls the cops. The guy who calls for help also sounds like Carl Sukenick, but let's not go there.
So Mike ends up RIGHT back at Sunnyvale, not even 12 hours later. An orderly wheels him into a handy room to keep him out of the way until he can be properly processed. The guy says he won't be able to hurt anyone in there, and especially not himself, and excuse me. This room is a regular, empty room with nice, solid walls he can bash his face into, at the LEAST.
A doctor briefly appears to explain Mike's particular brand o' psychosis, and I appreciate such an attempt in this sort of movie. Much like the original Silent Night Deadly Night, these are not the kind of movies where they usually bother, and I genuinely like when we get into this stuff.
Back in his room, Mike is suddenly joined by two other patients, and he somehow pulls out a knife. Okay, this must be his latest delusion to help justify his actions, so none of that is there, otherwise I'd be questioning...
And so, we get into another Truth or Dare game, while doctors wring their hands over what he did. Guess which is the more interesting plotline? Largely because Mike brings that wild intensity to his performance again.
We get more severed limbs, Mike gives the other guy a grenade to explode his head off, and then it is finally Mike's turn, and he gets dared to cut his own face off.
The doctors casually stroll up, having no idea what's going on, and why would they? It's all in Mike's head and OH MY GODS HE'S ACTUALLY SLICING HIS FACE OFF
Okay okay NOW I question...HOW DID HE GET THE KNIFE IN?? They searched him, stripped him naked, and he's in one of those hospital gowns that you KNOW allows everyone to see his ass crack. And the knife could have been a delusion, but no, THE KNIFE WAS REAL because he sliced his face off with it, they show it!
And before you say, oh no, that must also have been a delusion, and Mike just did it with his bare hands...which is a No Prize of an explanation I could have gladly gotten behind! more orderlies say, some time later, that NO, he literally did it with a knife, so IT WAS REAL.
Since then, Mike has been allowed into the metal shop (WHY??) and made a copper mask for himself, which is quite frankly, one of the most iconic murderer masks I've seen, and I wish we had seen more of it in other movies. Although to be fair, it's also silly looking.
The orderlies decide to fuck with the guy though, and give him a picture of his wife, which makes him lose it and start banging around. They go to see what's going on, what's all the ruckus, and...surprise! Mike uses the opportunity to get stabby and escape.
He makes a break for it, punches a guard and flings him off an outside staircase, in a hilarious swap to a dummy, in the best giallo tradition, and he then steals a car.
Mike's reign of terror is just beginning though, as he refuses to obey common traffic laws, and bolts out into the street, running over a baby carriage, gratutiously. I love it.
Some jerks harass a family in a car, and Mike pulls up, and it is some frighteningly close driving. The car is inches from the guy's hand. They make fun of Mike and his mask, which just makes Mike chases them down, run them off the road, and their car explodes into flames.
The main bully stumbles out, and while he's on fire, he gets shot full of bullets, to make him have an extra bad day.
And there is nothing more joyous to me than watching a man's car get crashed into, burst into flames, the guy stumbles out of the car on fire and only mildly inconvenienced by this, as he proceeds to be shot up while crawling away grumbling, "Aww, aw no, aw man, damnit, aww damnit!"
The cops get reports of Mike hiding out in a storage shed, and one of them is already there, with another on his way. Another cop has already been stabbed by the time we arrive on the scene.
Officer Pournelle shouts out, "I know you in there!" and fires a few random shots into this shed. A shed which I absolutely love is just this random building in the middle of nowhere that is apparently important for some reason, that is absolutely near nothing.
Anyways the cop pours out some gasoline around the shed, lights it up cackling wildly, pleased with himself for a job well done for his bit of vigilante justice.
Folks, let me tell ya, the shed goes UP. There is no quicker way to my heart than some random explosions, save for random explosions that are LUDICROUSLY HUGE.
Inside the ashes, they do find a body, so I guess the movie is ov...wait no, they ID it as not being Mike, because the teeth are too old. I call bullshit. And how does he just deduce the man was the town drunk? Not even Sherlock could make that leap.
But hey, the cop didn't just dispense vigilante justice, he KILLED AN INNOCENT MAN! And there are zero consequences for this!
While the cops figure out what to do next, Mike goes on a random murder spree of hyperviolence, which is wonderful. It took a long road to get here, but this is the shit.
CAP: DC's reboot of the Psycho Pirate is terrible.
The murder spree starts with Mike seeing a little kid that reminds him of his younger self, so he decides to take care of him. And he could just run him over, or get out and chase him down, but naw, Mike doesn't have time for that.
Mike whips out a chainsaw, gets it going, and sticks it out the car window as he drives at the kid, slicing and dicing on the go.
He next finds a random trio of people sitting on a bus bench waiting around, and guns them down because why not at this point?
The lead detective, who is not an arsonist on the side, looks over the list of victims and finally goes, hey! Maybe he's gonna go kill his wife! It took you guys THIS LONG to sort that out?? There's also a random absurd exchange between the detective and Pournelle who turns up in a cab, that is just BIZARRE.
Mike ends his chaotic stream of murder by crashing into his neighbour's trash cans, and gets ready to finally have his revenge.
The neighbour rushes out to yell at him, Mike brings out a MACE that is obviously made out of foam from somewhere?! and beats her in the face with it. Oh, and with a chainsaw slung by his hip.
Mike approaches his former home, fires up the chainsaw and huh. Two movies in a row set in Florida with men attacking houses with chainsaws. Who knew that was a thing?
He heads into the house, approaches the shower with a machete thinking he's Norman Bates all of a sudden, and when he pulls back the shower curtain, it's Mike who gets the surprise.
Inside the shower is NOT his wife, but a cop that shoots Mike a few times. The cop heads to the bedroom to tell Sharon hiding in the closet she can come out now, and somehow she got killed off camera. Wow, way to blow the big motivating death of the movie, Critical Madness.
Mike who isn't dead yet, walks in and shoots the cop while he gasps over Sharon's dead body, then stumbles out into the hallway.
The good detective beats Pournelle the arsonist there, thankfully, and he confronts Mike. The cop knows enough about the case, and asks Mike to play a game of Truth or Dare, daring Mike to put the gun down.
I love that Mike operates on Batman villain logic. They have their own psychosis and strict rules they adhere to, and never deviate, if written correctly. And the same holds true for Mike.
The movie is pretty much over, as Mike puts the gun down, an ambulance is called for him AGAIN, and he is gonna be able to claim frequent flyer miles at this point, as we get one final wacky scene with the cops, and a shot of Sunnyvale as we fade to credits...AND AN AMAZING SONG ABOUT THE MOVIE.
Video: It's shot on video, you see the screencaps, and it's pretty awful looking, but it could look so much worse.
Audio: It sounds rough, but is clear enough, just on the low quality side.
Sound Bite: "Not me, I'm sane! I can cope in today's world!"
Body Count: It takes a bit to get going, but then the murders begin and don't let up.
1 - 34 minutes in, and Mike makes his first kill, stabbing boyfriend off camera
2 - Probably a dead orderly with a pencil in his eye.
3 - Run over a baby!
4 - And then backs over the mom!
5 - Bully gets caught in an exploding car and then gets shot while on fire
6 - SOMEone died in that shed...
7 - CAR CHAINSAW BEHEADING
8, 9, 10 - Three people gun downed on the bench
11 - Annoying lady gets maced
12 - Sharon killed off screen
13 - Cop shot in the face
Best Corpse: That poor guy who crashes, is set on fire, and shot brings a smile to my face.
Blood Type - B: There's quite a bit, some good effects, and only a shame that they're lost in the video quality.
Sex Appeal: There's some brief nudity of Sharon in the shower, but otherwise the movie goes out of its way to avoid it??
Drink Up! Every time someone says Truth or Dare?
Video Nasties: Watch as Mike plays his first Truth or Dare since he was a kid...
Movie Review: This is a surprisingly competent movie. I don't expect much quality filmmaking with shot on video movies, but asides from a few pacing issues, this is a well enough made movie and properly shot movie. It's just shot on video, and this shows that those movies aren't immediately garbage. It has a few questionable decisions, and gets a bit batshit and random at the last act, but even that is fun at least. Four out of five copper masks.
Entertainment Value: Much like the quality of the movie, the entertainment value starts off low, and then skyrockets as the movie goes along. There's a few moments early on that are great, like Mike's reaction to the affair, and his intensity during that first game, that are highlights early on, and then once he gets the mask on, I can't look away. Four out of five hidden hunting knives.